The Great Barrier Reef and other reef systems around the world are threatened by multiple processes, particularly ocean acidification and warming as a result of climate change. Reefs are complex life support systems and their degradation has devastating impacts on marine life and on terrestrial animal populations, including humans.
Conditions imposed by climate change and a strong El Nino triggered two waves of mass coral bleaching starting in late summer of 2016, leading to sharp declines in coral species and habitats. Events like these are precisely why we have been putting all our efforts into establishing and applying the science around coral cryopreservation, as a means of saving genetic diversity which could otherwise be lost forever.
Taronga is the leading organisation in Australia applying cryopreservation technologies to reef management, restoration and research, for conservation management of the Great Barrier Reef. Our team of biologists working with the Smithsonian Institution, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation have been annual spawning seasons since 2011, focussing on the cryobanking of keystone coral reef species (i.e. those that are essential to reef structure and function).
The CryoDiversity Banks at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo and at the Taronga Institute of Science and Learning in Sydney, store and care for a portion of frozen coral cells until they are needed to re-seed the reef. The total number of species now housed in Taronga’s CryoDiversity Bank is 21 and represents the largest coral bank in the world. This living genebank is also providing cells for studies which advance our understanding of coral biology and adaption to oceanic changes. New funding applications with the University of NSW and other national and international collaborators are underway to progress and apply science of coral reef recovery.